Sometimes when I tell people I’m a writer, I’m surprised by this response: “I wish I could write” or “I’m not a writer.” And I can tell by the way they say it that it’s something they’ve long struggled with.
There is a hard spot inside of them, because for one reason or another they’ve always struggled with it. And because it’s they’ve struggled with it for so long, it’s the only thing they’ve ever known.
As I pondered these statements, they sounded very familiar. Growing up, I was intimidated by math the same way that some people are intimidated by writing. I started having problems in the fifth grade, when math became more than multiplication tables and word problems. The equations had letters with unknown value, and I had to discover what they meant. Things started getting complicated.
Over the next several years as I passed through our country’s fine, educational institutions I had good and bad years in math. I was most successful in classes where the teacher covered the material in a slow and steady pace.
Most of the time, though, I was behind the rest of the class. I often found that I was about two or three units behind. By the time I understood the material in Chapter 3, the class was already on Chapter 6.
I told myself I was bad at math. And in doing so, I became intimidated by it. There were always incomplete homework problems that baffled me, and most of the time I was lucky to even pass the class. I felt dispirited and weakened and went to every class with dread.
And so it felt that way for years. By the time I got to college, I was functioning just enough to meet my requirements and get a passing grade.
Maybe some of you had a similar experience. Maybe you thought the Five Paragraph Essay made no flipping sense. Or maybe your grammar is an embarassment to you.
So how do non-writers get over that hump?
- Read. It’s all about quantity, not quality. Read books, magazines, newspapers, online articles, and blog posts. Ask yourself, what makes this good writing? Even better, what makes bad writing? What are the writers’ strengths and weaknesses? Did they do something unique and unusual? Or did they play cheap tricks on you? Reading teaches you to answer these questions. And it develops your writer’s intuition. I especially recommend books on writing. For recommendations, go to my page, On Writing. I’ve always found it inspiring to read how other writers practice the craft.
- Write every day. Set a word limit or a time limit. Make a practice of writing 500 words, three pages, or writing for one hour. Better yet, write about the things you read and reflect on the quality of the writing. Again, it’s not about the quality. It’s about completing the task and making the habit. With that habit comes practice. And with that practice comes ability and confidence.
- Write the entire first draft. I’ve talked to a lot of writers that fight the urge to edit as they write. It’s very important to allow yourself to complete the first draft before you do any editing. If you edit-as-you-go, you will only get caught in the trap of perfectionism. Perfectionism won’t let you finish anything. You are doing yourself a favor by allowing yourself to write that first crappy draft.
- Honor the process. Write several drafts. Write the first draft. Edit and write a second draft. Edit and write again. Writing a few drafts gives you time to hone your thoughts and allows your best ideas to come out. It’s easy to get frustrated when we get stuck or we can’t seem to get it right.
- Make Mistakes. Lots of them. This is the best way to learn. Show your work to someone who’s taste you trust and who can give constructive feedback. Don’t set expectations of what you’re writing should look like. That will only doom you to failure.
- And practice. Just keep doing it, no matter how hard it gets.
Taking a non-credit college course in math is on my bucket list. I want to overcome the despair I felt in school and tackle the subject when my GPA isn’t at stake. I know I can beat it. If you feel the same way about writing and feel intimidated by the thought of filling a blank page, then that is the first brave step. Have patience with yourself and have faith in the process. There is nothing to be lost by making mistakes. The process will help you grow.
Does this sound like your experience? I’d love to hear from you!